Nataly Dawn’s face is more familiar than her name.
As Pomplamoose, she and her partner, Jack Conte, have been a splash on YouTube with their quirky covers of pop songs such as Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” Dawn is routinely wide-eyed in the videos, seemingly singing the stripped-down arrangements against her will.
“How I Knew Her,” Dawn’s solo debut — well, Conte is the producer, so it’s still sort of Pomplamoose — features her singing her own material, and not surprisingly, she’s much more the alt-gal than the pop diva. And her visual expressions on the video are matched by figurative winks, smirks and eyerolls on her own release.
Mandolin, banjo and upright bass contribute to the festive atmosphere of “How I Knew Her,” and Dawn saunters through the mix with self-consciously peculiar flair, spinning through theatrical lines as if she were twirling a lyrical parasol while she strolls down the boardwalk.
Cabaret-meets-carnival-meets-circus, from the reggae-lilting “Araceli” to the pounding and stagey “Long Running Joke,” though it takes a burst of mid-album innovation to kick “Now I Knew Her” out of the cutesy doldrums.
“Counting Down” features ghostly melodicism that’s more conventionally songlike than many of her more conversational tracks, and Dawn’s shift from riverboat-friendly sympathy for a pariah (“Caroline”) to bar-room friendly swagger in “Please Don’t Scream” are inspiring. Plus the playful twists in “Still a Believer” (“If you ever meet my grandma, don’t believe her”) and “Even Steven” (where she seeks revenge on a “lyin, cheatin’, apple eatin’” man named Steven) help offset the rambling nature of other tracks that don’t have much in the way of hooks.
Overall, once Dawn establishes her persona, she’s predictably unpredictable in a way that fans of eccentric singer-songwriters likely will cherish.
She shouldn’t rule out more covers in her future, however.
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of five)
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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